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How to differentiate Integrative Medicine from Holistic Medicine, Naturopathic Medicine, Alternative

Integrative Medicine usually embraces a variety of eclectic healing traditions, including conventional medicine and “alternative” medicines, which may include nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathy, herbalism, functional medicine, shiatsu, Bowenwork, chiropractic or other types of bodywork, Ayurvedic medicine, mind-body medicine, although other types of treatments not taught in medical training programs can also be utilized. Integrative Medicine has a pragmatic approach to healing, using whatever promotes healing and is safe. Integrative Medicine can be practiced by M.D.’s, D.O.’s, P.A.’s, N.P.’s and occasionally acupuncturists and chiropractors.

Holistic Medicine is more an attitude or perspective than a particular treatment modality. It refers to the view that local symptoms need to be viewed in a broader context of the body’s interdependent regulatory systems. If you have hypothyroidism, it may be useful to look at hormone function in general, predisposing environment factors that might lead to hypothyroidism and to the particular local manifestations of that hypothyroidism. Holism recognizes that the skin may be a reflection of the health of the liver, and that the liver may be reflective of what’s going on in the intestines, which may be reflective of what’s going on in the mind. A holistic practitioner generally has training in some type of alternative medicine that understands this perspective. Homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine are holistic therapies.

Naturopathic Medicine resembles Integrative Medicine in most ways except that it refers more specifically to the type of medicine practiced by individuals who’ve trained in a Naturopathic Graduate Training Program. Graduates of these programs may utilize a variety of healing modalities, just like Integrative Medical Practitioners, or they may focus in just one or two. They do not utilize conventional pharmaceuticals, although they may collaborate with prescribers. They may perform minor surgery, but do not do major surgery. They usually have a N.D. degree (Naturopathic Doctor).

Alternative Medicine simply refers to all types of non-conventional treatments —i.e., nearly anything that conventional practitioners do not do or consider within their usual scope of referrals. These would all treatments other than pharmaceuticals, surgery, physical therapy, occupational therapy and conventional nutrition.

Complementary Medicine is alternative medicine when used adjunctively to conventional medicine. It differs from Integrative Medicine in that it plays only a supportive role to conventional medicine, whereas Integrative Medicine usually plays a leading role, and only infrequently plays a supportive role in treatment vis a vis conventional medicine.

Energy Medicine is a type of treatment that engages with and enhances the homeostatic forces that regulate health. While these forces are invisible and difficult to study, their presence or absence is readily perceptible to all living beings. The mechanism by which energetic therapies affect homeostatic mechanisms (sometimes also referred to as “ch’i”, “prana” or “vital energy”) is not known, but the results are demonstrated by research and clinical experience. Types of energetic medicine include Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, Homeopathy, Bowenwork, Bach Flower Remedies, Reiki, Color therapy, Music or sound therapy, Yoga.

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